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Specialization Within the Civil Engineering Profession: Issues, Analysis, and Recommendations

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Educational & Professional Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession and ASCE

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Stephen J. Ressler P.E. United States Military Academy

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Stephen Ressler, P.E. Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. He earned a B.S. degree from USMA in 1979, a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University in 1989, and a Ph.D. from Lehigh in 1991. As an active duty Army officer, he served for 34 years in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He served as a member of the USMA faculty for 21 years, including six years as Professor and Head of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering. He retired as a Brigadier General in 2013. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia, a Distinguished Member of ASCE, and a Fellow of ASEE.

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Thomas A. Lenox American Society of Civil Engineers (Retired)

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Thomas A. Lenox, Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE, F.ASEE is Executive Vice President (Emeritus) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy (USMA), Master of Science degree in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics from Cornell University, Master of Business Administration degree in Finance from Long Island University, and a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University. Dr. Lenox served for over 28 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S Army Field Artillery in a variety of leadership positions in the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. He retired at the rank of Colonel. During his military career, Dr. Lenox spent 15 years on the engineering faculty of USMA – including five years as the Director of the Civil Engineering Division. Upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1998, he joined the staff of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In his position as educational staff leader of ASCE, he managed several new educational initiatives – collectively labeled as Project ExCEEd (Excellence in Civil Engineering Education). As ASCE’s Executive Vice President, Dr. Lenox led several educational and professional career-development projects for the civil engineering profession – with the overall objective of properly preparing individuals for their futures as civil engineers. An example is his staff leadership of ASCE’s initiative to “Raise the Bar” for entry into professional engineering practice. Dr. Lenox’s awards include ASCE’s ExCEEd Leadership Award, ASEE’s George K. Wadlin Award, ASCE’s William H. Wisely American Civil Engineer Award, and the CE News’ “2010 Power List – 15 People Advancing the Civil Engineering Profession.” He is a Distinguished Member of ASCE and a Fellow of ASEE. In January 2014, Dr. Lenox retired from his staff position with ASCE. He continues to serve the engineering profession as an active member of ABET's Board of Delegates, Global Council, and Governance Committee; several of ASCE's education and accreditation committees; and ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division.

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The purpose of this paper is to address a range of issues associated with the emergence and ongoing development of technical specialty areas within the civil engineering profession. These issues include:

• lack of any authoritative definition of the civil engineering specialty areas; • lack of a clear educational paradigm for the development of civil engineers who are prepared for professional practice in a given specialty area; • lack of a coherent system for credentialing practitioners in each specialty area; and • ambiguity in the relationships between the technical institutes of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the civil engineering specialty areas.

To demonstrate the importance of these issues, we identify current problems in civil engineering education, accreditation, and licensure arising from the profession’s failure to manage the process of internal specialization proactively. In contrast, we summarize the more coherent and more effective system of internal specialization used in the medical profession.

As background for our analysis, we draw upon historical case studies and theoretical models from the Sociology of Professions to establish:

• the nature of occupational specialization in an economic system; • the need for discretionary specialization with respect to a formal body of knowledge, as a prerequisite for the establishment of a profession; • the causes of increasing internal specialization within professions; • the beneficial and potentially detrimental effects of internal specialization; and • the conditions under which internal specialization can lead to formal division of a profession into two or more separate occupational groups.

In performing our analysis, we also draw upon the Sociology of Professions to identify the respective contributions of educational breadth and educational depth to the academic preparation of a professional. We note that an essential characteristic of professionalism—the exercise of discretionary judgment—requires both, because specialized technical knowledge is always applied in a broader economic, societal, and technological context.

Based on this analysis, we develop (1) a conceptual model for formally identifying the civil engineering specialty areas and (2) education, accreditation, and credentialing paradigms that are consistent with this model. We also recommend the adoption of a formal ASCE Policy Statement to institutionalize the model.

COORDINATING NOTE: This abstract is submitted at the specific invitation and request of Tom Lenox, the coordinator of the ASCE Liaison Committee’s session(s) for the CE Division of ASEE in 2018. It should be considered for inclusion in the sessions on “Educational & Professional Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession – and ASCE” that the ASCE Liaison Committee is organizing.

Ressler, S. J., & Lenox, T. A. (2018, June), Specialization Within the Civil Engineering Profession: Issues, Analysis, and Recommendations Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30979

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